John Estey Student Writing Competition 2023

2023 Competition Prompt

“Give me a song of hope and a world where I can sing it.” – Pauli Murray, Dark Testament

Pauli Murray (1910-1985) was difficult to define. They were a poet, a lawyer, a priest, a freight hopper, Eleanor Roosevelt’s friend, arrested for refusing to comply with bus segregation laws, a closeted member of the LBGTQ+ community, a professor, and so much more. Their work has influenced Supreme Court decisions, the Civil Rights movement, and countless individual people.

This prompt is a quote from Murray’s collection of poems titled Dark Testament. It can be used as a first line, a last line, a jumping-off point, an inspiration for your students’ work. They can use the entire quote or portions of it to write a fiction or nonfiction story, poem, song, scene, short monologue or other form of writing. Submissions should be 1,000 words or less regardless of format.

Prizes for the John Estey Student Writing Competition are as follows:

  • 3 Winners from the Elementary Grade category will receive $500 each
  • 3 Winners from the Middle School Category will receive $1,000 each
  • 3 Winners from the High School category will receive $2,000 each

Submission deadline: June 5, 2023 at 11:59 PM CDT*

Please fill out the intent to participate form below to receive resources. The AWM Education team will send the submission link to those who filled out this form.

Homeschoolers are welcome to participate in the competition. Please indicate school name as ‘Homeschool’ while filling out the form.

* Not eligible to participate: Past winners of the competition, relatives of museum staff or board.

The OnWord Student Writing Competition intent to submit form has closed.

Winners of the 2023 contest will be announced at the American Writers Museum's annual gala, OnWord 2023 in September 2023. Information about winners will be made public after that time.

*To submit your student’s work, please fill out the intent to participate form and you will receive a submission link from the education team at a later date. Submissions will ONLY be accepted through the submission link.

  • The 3 winners of the Elementary Grade category will receive $500
  • The 3 winners of the Middle School category will receive $1,000
  • The 3 winners of the High School category will receive $2,000
Competition Specifications

Category Selection

  • Elementary Grade Level (Grades 3-5)
  • Middle School Grade Level (Grades 6-8)
  • High School Grade Level (Grades 9-12)
Rules and Guidelines
  • Only 3 entries per category from one school.
  • Teachers will be allowed to submit entries for multiple categories.
  • A school with K-8 students can submit 6 entries (3 for Elementary and 3 for Middle School).
  • A school that is a stand alone middle school, or a high school can submit only 3.
  • If multiple teachers in a school have their students compete, the school needs to pick the top 3 for the school.
  • Winners agree to be filmed reading their work and to be featured in a press release and on the American Writers Museum website.

Contact with any questions

Congratulations to the winners of the 3rd Annual OnWord Student Writing Competition, announced on September 15, 2022 at our annual benefit!

2022 Elementary Winners

2022 Middle School Winners

2022 High School Winners

Previous Winners



  • Sophiya Subba – Whittier Elementary School, IL




  • Nina Artwell – Niles North High School, IL
  • Ysa Quiballo – Niles North High School, IL